Rewards and Fairies, by Rudyard Kipling

A Doctor of Medicine

An Astrologer’s Song

To the Heavens above us
Oh, look and behold
The planets that love us
All harnessed in gold!
What chariots, what horses,
Against us shall bide
While the Stars in their courses
Do fight on our side?

All thought, all desires,
That are under the sun,
Are one with their fires,
As we also are one;
All matter, all spirit,
All fashion, all frame,
Receive and inherit
Their strength from the same.

(Oh, man that deniest
All power save thine own,
Their power in the highest
Is mightily shown.
Not less in the lowest
That power is made clear.
Oh, man, if thou knowest,
What treasure is here!)

Earth quakes in her throes
And we wonder for why!
But the blind planet knows
When her ruler is nigh;
And, attuned since Creation,
To perfect accord,
She thrills in her station
And yearns to her Lord.

The waters have risen,
The springs are unbound —
The floods break their prison,
And ravin around.
No rampart withstands ’em,
Their fury will last,
Till the Sign that commands ’em
Sinks low or swings past.

Through abysses unproven,
And gulfs beyond thought,
Our portion is woven,
Our burden is brought.
Yet They that prepare it,
Whose Nature we share,
Make us who must bear it
Well able to bear.

Though terrors o’ertake us
We’ll not be afraid,
No Power can unmake us
Save that which has made.
Nor yet beyond reason
Nor hope shall we fall —
All things have their season,
And Mercy crowns all.

Then, doubt not, ye fearful —
The Eternal is King —
Up, heart, and be cheerful,
And lustily sing:
What chariots, what horses,
Against us shall bide
While the Stars in their courses
Do fight on our side?

A Doctor of Medicine

They were playing hide-and-seek with bicycle lamps after tea. Dan had hung his lamp on the apple tree at the end of the hellebore bed in the walled garden, and was crouched by the gooseberry bushes ready to dash off when Una should spy him. He saw her lamp come into the garden and disappear as she hid it under her cloak. While he listened for her footsteps, somebody (they both thought it was Phillips the gardener) coughed in the corner of the herb-beds.

‘All right,’ Una shouted across the asparagus; ‘we aren’t hurting your old beds, Phippsey!’

She flashed her lantern towards the spot, and in its circle of light they saw a Guy Fawkes-looking man in a black cloak and a steeple-crowned hat, walking down the path beside Puck. They ran to meet him, and the man said something to them about rooms in their head. After a time they understood he was warning them not to catch colds.

‘You’ve a bit of a cold yourself, haven’t you?’ said Una, for he ended all his sentences with a consequential cough. Puck laughed.

‘Child,’ the man answered, ‘if it hath pleased Heaven to afflict me with an infirmity —’

‘Nay, nay,’ Puck struck In, ‘the maid spoke out of kindness. I know that half your cough is but a catch to trick the vulgar; and that’s a pity. There’s honesty enough in you, Nick, without rasping and hawking.’

‘Good people’ — the man shrugged his lean shoulders — ‘the vulgar crowd love not truth unadorned. Wherefore we philosophers must needs dress her to catch their eye or — ahem! — their ear.’

‘And what d’you think of that?’ said Puck solemnly to Dan.

‘I don’t know,’ he answered. ‘It sounds like lessons.’

‘Ah — well! There have been worse men than Nick Culpeper to take lessons from. Now, where can we sit that’s not indoors?’

‘In the hay-mow, next to old Middenboro,’ Dan suggested. ‘He doesn’t mind.’

‘Eh?’ Mr Culpeper was stooping over the pale hellebore blooms by the light of Una’s lamp. ‘Does Master Middenboro need my poor services, then?’

‘Save him, no!’ said Puck. ‘He is but a horse — next door to an ass, as you’ll see presently. Come!’

Their shadows jumped and slid on the fruit-tree walls. They filed out of the garden by the snoring pig-pound and the crooning hen-house, to the shed where Middenboro the old lawn-mower pony lives. His friendly eyes showed green in the light as they set their lamps down on the chickens’ drinking-trough outside, and pushed past to the hay-mow. Mr Culpeper stooped at the door.

‘Mind where you lie,’ said Dan. ‘This hay’s full of hedge-brishings.

‘In! in!’ said Puck. ‘You’ve lain in fouler places than this, Nick. Ah! Let us keep touch with the stars!’ He kicked open the top of the half-door, and pointed to the clear sky. ‘There be the planets you conjure with! What does your wisdom make of that wandering and variable star behind those apple boughs?’

The children smiled. A bicycle that they knew well was being walked down the steep lane. ‘Where?’ Mr Culpeper leaned forward quickly. ‘That? Some countryman’s lantern.’

‘Wrong, Nick,’ said Puck. ‘’Tis a singular bright star in Virgo, declining towards the house of Aquarius the water-carrier, who hath lately been afflicted by Gemini. Aren’t I right, Una?’ Mr Culpeper snorted contemptuously.

‘No. It’s the village nurse going down to the Mill about some fresh twins that came there last week. Nurse,’ Una called, as the light stopped on the flat, ‘when can I see the Morris twins? And how are they?’

‘Next Sunday, perhaps. Doing beautifully,’ the Nurse called back, and with a ping-ping-ping of the bell brushed round the corner.

‘Her uncle’s a vetinary surgeon near Banbury,’ Una explained, and if you ring her bell at night, it rings right beside her bed — not downstairs at all. Then she ‘umps up — she always keeps a pair of dry boots in the fender, you know — and goes anywhere she’s wanted. We help her bicycle through gaps sometimes. Most of her babies do beautifully. She told us so herself.’

‘I doubt not, then, that she reads in my books,’ said Mr Culpeper quietly. ‘Twins at the Mill!’ he muttered half aloud. “And again He sayeth, Return, ye children of men.” ’

‘Are you a doctor or a rector?’ Una asked, and Puck with a shout turned head over heels in the hay. But Mr Culpeper was quite serious. He told them that he was a physician-astrologer — a doctor who knew all about the stars as well as all about herbs for medicine. He said that the sun, the moon, and five Planets, called Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Saturn, and Venus, governed everybody and everything in the world. They all lived in Houses — he mapped out some of them against the dark with a busy forefinger — and they moved from House to House like pieces at draughts; and they went loving and hating each other all over the skies. If you knew their likes and dislikes, he said, you could make them cure your patient and hurt your enemy, and find out the secret causes of things. He talked of these five Planets as though they belonged to him, or as though he were playing long games against them. The children burrowed in the hay up to their chins, and looked out over the half-door at the solemn, star-powdered sky till they seemed to be falling upside down into it, while Mr Culpeper talked about ‘trines’ and ‘oppositions’ and ‘conjunctions’ and ‘sympathies’ and ‘antipathies’ in a tone that just matched things.

A rat ran between Middenboro’s feet, and the old pony stamped.

‘Mid hates rats,’ said Dan, and passed him over a lock of hay. ‘I wonder why.’

‘Divine Astrology tells us,’ said Mr Culpeper. ‘The horse, being a martial beast that beareth man to battle, belongs naturally to the red planet Mars — the Lord of War. I would show you him, but he’s too near his setting. Rats and mice, doing their businesses by night, come under the dominion of our Lady the Moon. Now between Mars and Luna, the one red, t’other white, the one hot t’other cold and so forth, stands, as I have told you, a natural antipathy, or, as you say, hatred. Which antipathy their creatures do inherit. Whence, good people, you may both see and hear your cattle stamp in their stalls for the self-same causes as decree the passages of the stars across the unalterable face of Heaven! Ahem!’ Puck lay along chewing a leaf. They felt him shake with laughter, and Mr Culpeper sat up stiffly.

‘I myself” said he, ‘have saved men’s lives, and not a few neither, by observing at the proper time — there is a time, mark you, for all things under the sun — by observing, I say, so small a beast as a rat in conjunction with so great a matter as this dread arch above us.’ He swept his hand across the sky. ‘Yet there are those,’ he went on sourly, ‘who have years without knowledge.’

‘Right,’ said Puck. ‘No fool like an old fool.’

Mr Culpeper wrapped his cloak round him and sat still while the children stared at the Great Bear on the hilltop.

‘Give him time,’ Puck whispered behind his hand. ‘He turns like a timber-tug — all of a piece.’

‘Ahem!’ Mr Culpeper said suddenly. ‘I’ll prove it to you. When I was physician to Saye’s Horse, and fought the King — or rather the man Charles Stuart — in Oxfordshire (I had my learning at Cambridge), the plague was very hot all around us. I saw it at close hands. He who says I am ignorant of the plague, for example, is altogether beside the bridge.’

‘We grant it,’ said Puck solemnly. ‘But why talk of the plague this rare night?’

‘To prove my argument. This Oxfordshire plague, good people, being generated among rivers and ditches, was of a werish, watery nature. Therefore it was curable by drenching the patient in cold water, and laying him in wet cloths; or at least, so I cured some of them. Mark this. It bears on what shall come after.’

‘Mark also, Nick,’ said Puck, that we are not your College of Physicians, but only a lad and a lass and a poor lubberkin. Therefore be plain, old Hyssop on the Wall!’

‘To be plain and in order with you, I was shot in the chest while gathering of betony from a brookside near Thame, and was took by the King’s men before their Colonel, one Blagg or Bragge, whom I warned honestly that I had spent the week past among our plague-stricken. He flung me off into a cowshed, much like this here, to die, as I supposed; but one of their priests crept in by night and dressed my wound. He was a Sussex man like myself.’

‘Who was that?’ said Puck suddenly. ‘Zack Tutshom?’

‘No, Jack Marget,’ said Mr Culpeper.

‘Jack Marget of New College? The little merry man that stammered so? Why a plague was stuttering Jack at Oxford then?’ said Puck.

‘He had come out of Sussex in hope of being made a Bishop when the King should have conquered the rebels, as he styled us Parliament men. His College had lent the King some monies too, which they never got again, no more than simple Jack got his bishopric. When we met he had had a bitter bellyful of King’s promises, and wished to return to his wife and babes. This came about beyond expectation, for, so soon as I could stand of my wound, the man Blagge made excuse that I had been among the plague, and Jack had been tending me, to thrust us both out from their camp. The King had done with Jack now that Jack’s College had lent the money, and Blagge’s physician could not abide me because I would not sit silent and see him butcher the sick. (He was a College of Physicians man!) So Blagge, I say, thrust us both out, with many vile words, for a pair of pestilent, prating, pragmatical rascals.’

‘Ha! Called you pragmatical, Nick?’ Puck started up. ‘High time Oliver came to purge the land! How did you and honest Jack fare next?’

‘We were in some sort constrained to each other’s company. I was for going to my house in Spitalfields, he would go to his parish in Sussex; but the plague was broke out and spreading through Wiltshire, Berkshire, and Hampshire, and he was so mad distracted to think that it might even then be among his folk at home that I bore him company. He had comforted me in my distress. I could not have done less; and I remembered that I had a cousin at Great Wigsell, near by Jack’s parish. Thus we footed it from Oxford, cassock and buff coat together, resolute to leave wars on the left side henceforth; and either through our mean appearances, or the plague making men less cruel, we were not hindered. To be sure, they put us in the stocks one half-day for rogues and vagabonds at a village under St Leonard’s forest, where, as I have heard, nightingales never sing; but the constable very honestly gave me back my Astrological Almanac, which I carry with me.’ Mr Culpeper tapped his thin chest. ‘I dressed a whitlow on his thumb. So we went forward.

‘Not to trouble you with impertinences, we fetched over against Jack Marget’s parish in a storm of rain about the day’s end. Here our roads divided, for I would have gone on to my cousin at Great Wigsell, but while Jack was pointing me out his steeple, we saw a man lying drunk, as he conceived, athwart the road. He said it would be one Hebden, a parishioner, and till then a man of good life; and he accused himself bitterly for an unfaithful shepherd, that had left his flock to follow princes. But I saw it was the plague, and not the beginnings of it neither. They had set out the plague-stone, and the man’s head lay on it.’

‘What’s a plague-stone?’ Dan whispered.

‘When the plague is so hot in a village that the neighbours shut the roads against ’em, people set a hollowed stone, pot, or pan, where such as would purchase victual from outside may lay money and the paper of their wants, and depart. Those that would sell come later — what will a man not do for gain? — snatch the money forth, and leave in exchange such goods as their conscience reckons fair value. I saw a silver groat in the water, and the man’s list of what he would buy was rain-pulped in his wet hand.

‘“My wife! Oh, my wife and babes!” says Jack of a sudden, and makes uphill — I with him.

‘A woman peers out from behind a barn, crying out that the village is stricken with the plague, and that for our lives’ sake we must avoid it.

‘“Sweetheart!” says Jack. “Must I avoid thee?” and she leaps at him and says the babes are safe. She was his wife.

‘When he had thanked God, even to tears, he tells me this was not the welcome he had intended, and presses me to flee the place while I was clean.

‘“Nay! The Lord do so to me and more also if I desert thee now,” I said. “These affairs are, under God’s leave, in some fashion my strength.”

‘“Oh, sir,” she says, “are you a physician? We have none.”

‘“Then, good people,” said I, “I must e’en justify myself to you by my works.”

‘“Look — look ye,” stammers Jack, “I took you all this time for a crazy Roundhead preacher.” He laughs, and she, and then I— all three together in the rain are overtook by an unreasonable gust or clap of laughter, which none the less eased us. We call it in medicine the Hysterical Passion. So I went home with ’em.’

‘Why did you not go on to your cousin at Great Wigsell, Nick?’ Puck suggested. ‘’tis barely seven mile up the road.’

‘But the plague was here,’ Mr Culpeper answered, and pointed up the hill. ‘What else could I have done?’

‘What were the parson’s children called?’ said Una.

‘Elizabeth, Alison, Stephen, and Charles — a babe. I scarce saw them at first, for I separated to live with their father in a cart-lodge. The mother we put — forced — into the house with her babes. She had done enough.

‘And now, good people, give me leave to be particular in this case. The plague was worst on the north side of the street, for lack, as I showed ’em, of sunshine; which, proceeding from the PRIME MOBILE, or source of life (I speak astrologically), is cleansing and purifying in the highest degree. The plague was hot too by the corn-chandler’s, where they sell forage to the carters, extreme hot in both Mills, along the river, and scatteringly in other places, except, mark you, at the smithy. Mark here, that all forges and smith shops belong to Mars, even as corn and meat and wine shops acknowledge Venus for their mistress. There was no plague in the smithy at Munday’s Lane —’

‘Munday’s Lane? You mean our village? I thought so when you talked about the two Mills,’ cried Dan. ‘Where did we put the plague-stone? I’d like to have seen it.’

‘Then look at it now,’ said Puck, and pointed to the chickens’ drinking-trough where they had set their bicycle lamps. It was a rough, oblong stone pan, rather like a small kitchen sink, which Phillips, who never wastes anything, had found in a ditch and had used for his precious hens.

‘That?’ said Dan and Una, and stared, and stared, and stared. Mr Culpeper made impatient noises in his throat and went on.

‘I am at these pains to be particular, good people, because I would have you follow, so far as you may, the operations of my mind. That plague which I told you I had handled outside Wallingford in Oxfordshire was of a watery nature, conformable to the brookish riverine country it bred in, and curable, as I have said, by drenching in water. This plague of ours here, for all that it flourished along watercourses — every soul at both Mills died of it, — could not be so handled. Which brought me to a stand. Ahem!’

‘And your sick people in the meantime?‘Puck demanded. ‘We persuaded them on the north side of the street to lie out in Hitheram’s field. Where the plague had taken one, or at most two, in a house, folk would not shift for fear of thieves in their absence. They cast away their lives to die among their goods.’

‘Human nature,’ said Puck. ‘I’ve seen it time and again. How did your sick do in the fields?’

‘They died not near so thick as those that kept within doors, and even then they died more out of distraction and melancholy than plague. But I confess, good people, I could not in any sort master the sickness, or come at a glimmer of its nature or governance. To be brief, I was flat bewildered at the brute malignity of the disease, and so — did what I should have done before — dismissed all conjectures and apprehensions that had grown up within me, chose a good hour by my Almanac, clapped my vinegar-cloth to my face, and entered some empty houses, resigned to wait upon the stars for guidance.’

‘At night? Were you not horribly frightened?’ said Puck.

‘I dared to hope that the God who hath made man so nobly curious to search out His mysteries might not destroy a devout seeker. In due time — there’s a time, as I have said, for everything under the sun — I spied a whitish rat, very puffed and scabby, which sat beneath the dormer of an attic through which shined our Lady the Moon. Whilst I looked on him — and her — she was moving towards old cold Saturn, her ancient ally — the rat creeped languishingly into her light, and there, before my eyes, died. Presently his mate or companion came out, laid him down beside there, and in like fashion died too. Later — an hour or less to midnight — a third rat did e’en the same; always choosing the moonlight to die in. This threw me into an amaze, since, as we know, the moonlight is favourable, not hurtful, to the creatures of the Moon; and Saturn, being friends with her, as you would say, was hourly strengthening her evil influence. Yet these three rats had been stricken dead in very moonlight. I leaned out of the window to see which of Heaven’s host might be on our side, and there beheld I good trusty Mars, very red and heated, bustling about his setting. I straddled the roof to see better.

‘Jack Marget came up street going to comfort our sick in Hitheram’s field. A tile slipped under my foot.

Says he, heavily enough, “Watchman, what of the night?”

‘“Heart up, Jack,” says I. “Methinks there’s one fighting for us that, like a fool, I’ve forgot all this summer.” My meaning was naturally the planet Mars.

‘“Pray to Him then,” says he. “I forgot Him too this summer.”

‘He meant God, whom he always bitterly accused himself of having forgotten up in Oxfordshire, among the King’s men. I called down that he had made amends enough for his sin by his work among the sick, but he said he would not believe so till the plague was lifted from ’em. He was at his strength’s end — more from melancholy than any just cause. I have seen this before among priests and overcheerful men. I drenched him then and there with a half-cup of waters, which I do not say cure the plague, but are excellent against heaviness of the spirits.’

‘What were they?’ said Dan.

‘White brandy rectified, camphor, cardamoms, ginger, two sorts of pepper, and aniseed.’

‘Whew!’ said Puck. ‘Waters you call ’em!’

‘Jack coughed on it valiantly, and went downhill with me. I was for the Lower Mill in the valley, to note the aspect of the Heavens. My mind had already shadowed forth the reason, if not the remedy, for our troubles, but I would not impart it to the vulgar till I was satisfied. That practice may be perfect, judgment ought to be sound, and to make judgment sound is required an exquisite knowledge. Ahem! I left Jack and his lantern among the sick in Hitheram’s field. He still maintained the prayers of the so-called Church, which were rightly forbidden by Cromwell.’

‘You should have told your cousin at Wigsell,’ said Puck, ‘and Jack would have been fined for it, and you’d have had half the money. How did you come so to fail in your duty, Nick?’

Mr Culpeper laughed — his only laugh that evening — and the children jumped at the loud neigh of it.

‘We were not fearful of men’s judgment in those days,’ he answered. ‘Now mark me closely, good people, for what follows will be to you, though not to me, remarkable. When I reached the empty Mill, old Saturn, low down in the House of the Fishes, threatened the Sun’s rising-place. Our Lady the Moon was moving towards the help of him (understand, I speak astrologically). I looked abroad upon the high Heavens, and I prayed the Maker of ’em for guidance. Now Mars sparkingly withdrew himself below the sky. On the instant of his departure, which I noted, a bright star or vapour leaped forth above his head (as though he had heaved up his sword), and broke all about in fire. The cocks crowed midnight through the valley, and I sat me down by the mill-wheel, chewing spearmint (though that’s an herb of Venus), and calling myself all the asses’ heads in the world! ’Twas plain enough now!’

‘What was plain?’ said Una.

‘The true cause and cure of the plague. Mars, good fellow, had fought for us to the uttermost. Faint though he had been in the Heavens, and this had made me overlook him in my computations, he more than any of the other planets had kept the Heavens — which is to say, had been visible some part of each night wellnigh throughout the year. Therefore his fierce and cleansing influence, warring against the Moon, had stretched out to kill those three rats under my nose, and under the nose of their natural mistress, the Moon. I had known Mars lean half across Heaven to deal our Lady the Moon some shrewd blow from under his shield, but I had never before seen his strength displayed so effectual.’

‘I don’t understand a bit. Do you mean Mars killed the rats because he hated the Moon?’ said Una.

‘That is as plain as the pikestaff with which Blagge’s men pushed me forth,‘Mr Culpeper answered. ‘I’ll prove it. Why had the plague not broken out at the blacksmith’s shop in Munday’s Lane? Because, as I’ve shown you, forges and smithies belong naturally to Mars, and, for his honour’s sake, Mars ‘ud keep ’em clean from the creatures of the Moon. But was it like, think you, that he’d come down and rat-catch in general for lazy, ungrateful mankind? That were working a willing horse to death. So, then, you can see that the meaning of the blazing star above him when he set was simply this: “Destroy and burn the creatures Of the moon, for they are the root of your trouble. And thus, having shown you a taste of my power, good people, adieu.”’

‘Did Mars really say all that?’ Una whispered.

‘Yes, and twice so much as that to any one who had ears to hear. Briefly, he enlightened me that the plague was spread by the creatures of the Moon. The Moon, our Lady of ill-aspect, was the offender. My own poor wits showed me that I, Nick Culpeper, had the people in my charge, God’s good providence aiding me, and no time to lose neither.

‘I posted up the hill, and broke into Hitheram’s field amongst ’em all at prayers.

‘“Eureka, good people!” I cried, and cast down a dead mill-rat which I’d found. “Here’s your true enemy, revealed at last by the stars.”

‘“Nay, but I’m praying,” says Jack. His face was as white as washed silver.

‘“There’s a time for everything under the sun,” says I. “If you would stay the plague, take and kill your rats.”

‘“Oh, mad, stark mad!” says he, and wrings his hands.

‘A fellow lay in the ditch beside him, who bellows that he’d as soon die mad hunting rats as be preached to death on a cold fallow. They laughed round him at this, but Jack Marget falls on his knees, and very presumptuously petitions that he may be appointed to die to save the rest of his people. This was enough to thrust ’em back into their melancholy. ‘“You are an unfaithful shepherd, jack,” I says. “Take a bat” (which we call a stick in Sussex) “and kill a rat if you die before sunrise. ’Twill save your people.”

‘“Aye, aye. Take a bat and kill a rat,” he says ten times over, like a child, which moved ’em to ungovernable motions of that hysterical passion before mentioned, so that they laughed all, and at least warmed their chill bloods at that very hour — one o’clock or a little after — when the fires of life burn lowest. Truly there is a time for everything; and the physician must work with it — ahem! — or miss his cure. To be brief with you, I persuaded ’em, sick or sound, to have at the whole generation of rats throughout the village. And there’s a reason for all things too, though the wise physician need not blab ’em all. Imprimis, or firstly, the mere sport of it, which lasted ten days, drew ’em most markedly out of their melancholy. I’d defy sorrowful job himself to lament or scratch while he’s routing rats from a rick. Secundo, or secondly, the vehement act and operation of this chase or war opened their skins to generous transpiration — more vulgarly, sweated ’em handsomely; and this further drew off their black bile — the mother of sickness. Thirdly, when we came to burn the bodies of the rats, I sprinkled sulphur on the faggots, whereby the onlookers were as handsomely suffumigated. This I could not have compassed if I had made it a mere physician’s business; they’d have thought it some conjuration. Yet more, we cleansed, limed, and burned out a hundred foul poke-holes, sinks, slews, and corners of unvisited filth in and about the houses in the village, and by good fortune (mark here that Mars was in opposition to Venus) burned the corn-handler’s shop to the ground. Mars loves not Venus. Will Noakes the saddler dropped his lantern on a truss of straw while he was rat-hunting there.’

‘Had ye given Will any of that gentle cordial of yours, Nick, by any chance?’ said Puck.

‘A glass — or two glasses — not more. But as I would say, in fine, when we had killed the rats, I took ash, slag, and charcoal from the smithy, and burnt earth from the brickyard (I reason that a brickyard belongs to Mars), and rammed it with iron crowbars into the rat-runs and buries, and beneath all the house floors. The Creatures of the Moon hate all that Mars hath used for his own clean ends. For example — rats bite not iron.’

‘And how did poor stuttering Jack endure it?’ said Puck.

‘He sweated out his melancholy through his skin, and catched a loose cough, which I cured with electuaries, according to art. It is noteworthy, were I speaking among my equals, that the venom of the plague translated, or turned itself into, and evaporated, or went away as, a very heavy hoarseness and thickness of the head, throat, and chest. (Observe from my books which planets govern these portions of man’s body, and your darkness, good people, shall be illuminated — ahem!) None the less, the plague, qua plague, ceased and took off (for we only lost three more, and two of ’em had it already on ’em) from the morning of the day that Mars enlightened me by the Lower Mill.’ He coughed — almost trumpeted — triumphantly.

‘It is proved,’ he jerked out. ‘I say I have proved my contention, which is, that by Divine Astrology and humble search into the veritable causes of things — at the proper time — the sons of wisdom may combat even the plague.’

H’m!’ Puck replied. ‘For my own part I hold that a simple soul —’

‘Mine? Simple, forsooth?’ said Mr Culpeper.

‘A very simple soul, a high courage tempered with sound and stubborn conceit, is stronger than all the stars in their courses. So I confess truly that you saved the village, Nick.’

‘I stubborn? I stiff-necked? I ascribed all my poor success, under God’s good providence, to Divine Astrology. Not to me the glory! You talk as that dear weeping ass Jack Marget preached before I went back to my work in Red Lion House, Spitalfields.’

‘Oh! Stammering Jack preached, did he? They say he loses his stammer in the pulpit.’

‘And his wits with it. He delivered a most idolatrous discourse when the plague was stayed. He took for his text: “The wise man that delivered the city.” I could have given him a better, such as: “There is a time for-” ’

‘But what made you go to church to hear him?’ Puck interrupted. ‘Wail Attersole was your lawfully appointed preacher, and a dull dog he was!’

Mr Culpeper wriggled uneasily.

‘The vulgar,’ said he, ‘the old crones and — ahem! — the children, Alison and the others, they dragged me to the House of Rimmon by the hand. I was in two minds to inform on Jack for maintaining the mummeries of the falsely-called Church, which, I’ll prove to you, are founded merely on ancient fables —’

‘Stick to your herbs and planets,’ said Puck, laughing. ‘You should have told the magistrates, Nick, and had Jack fined. Again, why did you neglect your plain duty?’

‘Because — because I was kneeling, and praying, and weeping with the rest of ’em at the Altar-rails. In medicine this is called the Hysterical Passion. It may be — it may be.’

‘That’s as may be,’ said Puck. They heard him turn the hay. ‘Why, your hay is half hedge-brishings,’ he said. ‘You don’t expect a horse to thrive on oak and ash and thorn leaves, do you?’

Ping-ping-ping went the bicycle bell round the corner. Nurse was coming back from the mill.

‘Is it all right?’ Una called.

‘All quite right,’ Nurse called back. ‘They’re to be christened next Sunday.’

‘What? What?’ They both leaned forward across the half-door. it could not have been properly fastened, for it opened, and tilted them out with hay and leaves sticking all over them.

‘Come on! We must get those two twins’ names,’ said Una, and they charged uphill shouting over the hedge, till Nurse slowed up and told them. When they returned, old Middenboro had got out of his stall, and they spent a lively ten minutes chasing him in again by starlight.

‘Our Fathers of Old’

Excellent herbs had our fathers of old —
Excellent herbs to ease their pain —
Alexanders and Marigold,
Eyebright, Orris, and Elecampane,
Basil, Rocket, Valerian, Rue,
(Almost singing themselves they run)
Vervain, Dittany, Call-me-to-you —
Cowslip, Melilot, Rose of the Sun.
Anything green that grew out of the mould
Was an excellent herb to our fathers of old.

Wonderful tales had our fathers of old —
Wonderful tales of the herbs and the stars —
The Sun was Lord of the Marigold,
Basil and Rocket belonged to Mars.
Pat as a sum in division it goes —
(Every plant had a star bespoke) —
Who but Venus should govern the Rose?
Who but Jupiter own the Oak?
Simply and gravely the facts are told
In the wonderful books of our fathers of old.

Wonderful little, when all is said,
Wonderful little our fathers knew.
Half their remedies cured you dead —
Most of their teaching was quite untrue —
‘Look at the stars when a patient is ill,
(Dirt has nothing to do with disease,)
Bleed and blister as much as you will,
Blister and bleed him as oft as you please.’
Whence enormous and manifold
Errors were made by our fathers of old.

Yet when the sickness was sore in the land,
And neither planet nor herb assuaged,
They took their lives in their lancet-hand
And, oh, what a wonderful war they waged!
Yes, when the crosses were chalked on the door —
Yes, when the terrible dead-cart rolled,
Excellent courage our fathers bore —
Excellent heart had our fathers of old.
Not too learned, but nobly bold,
Into the fight went our fathers of old.

If it be certain, as Galen says,
And sage Hippocrates holds as much —
‘That those afflicted by doubts and dismays
Are mightily helped by a dead man’s touch,’
Then, be good to us, stars above!
Then, be good to us, herbs below!
We are afflicted by what we can prove;
We are distracted by what we know —
So — ah, so!
Down from your Heaven or up from your mould,
Send us the hearts of our fathers of old!

Last updated on Wed Jan 12 09:40:11 2011 for eBooks@Adelaide.